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UTAH COURT FILINGS INCREASE SHARPLY

Utah court filings have increased sharply due to more criminal cases.

Court filings usually increase about 2.5 percent a year, but they went up 6.4 percent in the last fiscal year."The question is, is this a 100-yard-dash or is this a marathon?" said Eric Leeson, who compiles and analyzes computer statistics for courts in Utah. "If it continues, it means delays getting cases through the courts."

The new statistics come as Utah judges gather in Park City this week to set their budget priorities for the 1996 Legislature.

Reconciling the 6.4 percent growth in court filings with Gov. Mike Leavitt's call for a 2.5 percent cap on agency budgets probably is impossible, said Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Zimmerman.

"The problem we have is whether we'll be forced to adhere to that," Zimmerman said Monday. "That's an issue we're going to raise with the governor."

Since criminal defendants have the right to speedy trials, judges are forced to give criminal cases priority, the chief justice said. If resources are scarce, "that shifts a judge's workload . . . and creates a longer backlog on the civil side," Zimmerman said.

Civil cases include divorces, probate, contract disputes and lawsuits, which actually have decreased by 4 percent. The caseload spurt instead is being fueled by adult criminal cases, specifically drug offenses.

In circuit courts statewide, drug cases jumped from 2,808 filings to 4,561. In district courts, drug-related filings increased from 1,766 to 2,998. Sex offenses dropped slightly, from 481 to 424 in circuit courts and from 425 to 419 in district courts.

"It is horrendous the way the drug cases have increased," said Salt Lake Chief Deputy District Attorney Walter Ellett.

He attributes the jump, in part, to drug dealers and users who are in the country illegally. When deported, many quickly return and are arrested again, he said.